What is targeted cancer therapy?

Targeted cancer therapy, also known as targeted therapy, is a type of chemotherapy that focuses on specific abnormalities in cancer cells that allow them to live and replicate. Targeted therapy drugs attack the cancer cells inner programming to kill cancerous cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

In some cases, targeted therapy can be used as stand-alone treatment, while in other cases, it is used in combination with other treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery.

There are a variety of targets on cancer cells and different drugs that have been developed to attack them.

What therapies have been approved for used in cancer patients?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved targeted therapy for use in cancer treatments including:

  • Hormone therapies — some breast cancer and prostate cancers require hormones to grow. Hormone therapy can prevent the body from producing certain hormones.
  • Signal transduction inhibitors — some targeted cancer therapies can interfere with the proteins in cancerous cells, preventing them from multiplying. It can help interfere with cancer’s growth.
  • Angiogenesis inhibitors — targeted therapy can help stop signals that help form new blood vessels that feed the growing cancerous tumors. If the blood supply is stopped, the tumors stay small or shrink.
  • Carrying toxins to the cancer cells — killing the cancerous cells but not the healthy cells

Who is a candidate for targeted cancer therapy?

Your Mercy Health doctor will test your tumor to determine if it contains targets for which there are drugs available to treat. You may be a candidate for targeted therapy if your cancer:

  • Has not responded to other treatments
  • Has spread
  • Is inoperable

Your doctor will work with your entire cancer care team to determine if targeted cancer therapy is the best option for your case.

How is targeted cancer therapy administered?

Targeted cancer therapy can be administered in the hospital via an IV or taken at home in an oral pill. Your Mercy Health doctor will determine the most effective treatment for you and your case.

Benefits of targeted cancer therapy?

Targeted cancer therapy seeks out cancer cells, so the drugs are designed to reduce the harm to healthy cells. In many cases, this leads to fewer side effects compared to traditional chemotherapy.

Disadvantages of targeted cancer therapy?

Although targeted cancer therapy benefits many patients, there are limitations including:

  • Cancer cells can become resistant to targeted cancer therapy.
  • Drugs for some cancer targets may be challenging to develop due to the target’s structure or function within the cell.
  • Not all cancer types can be treated with targeted cancer therapy drugs.

What are the side effects of targeted cancer therapy?

Although targeted cancer therapy is less toxic than traditional chemotherapy, there are potential severe side effects including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Liver problems such as hepatitis
  • Skin problems - dry skin, nail changes
  • Blood clotting issues
  • Wound healing problems
  • High blood pressure

Find a cancer specialist nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you